Why we chose to get counseling before getting engaged
Over the course of a lifetime, I’ve met a ton of different people who hold a ton of different opinions about everything. Yet to my knowledge I’ve never come across anybody who holds the opinion that marriage is easy. I’ve heard people say that it’s wonderful. I’ve unfortunately also heard people say that it’s pretty awful. Some people have told me that it starts off easy but gets harder to maintain as life happens. Others have told me that it starts off as a rude awakening but gets easier as you get to know each other and mature together. But I have never had anybody just straight up tell me that marriage is plain easy.
How do I interpret all this? Marriage isn’t easy.
But, with about nine-and-a-half months to go before my own wedding, I find myself excited. Really excited. I have no expectations for a good marriage to come easily or effortlessly, but I do find the prospect of life with Deanna well worth it. To be honest, I’ve felt this way for over a year now.
It was about this time last year when Deanna threw an idea at me that I had never heard of before.
The idea of pre-marital counseling? That was pretty familiar. But doing the counseling sessions and having a spiritual leader guide us through conversations about parenting, conflict, finance, etc. prior to being engaged? I didn’t know that was an option.
“I forget who told me about it,” Deanna started explaining the idea to me. “But the idea is that you’re a lot more objective before you get engaged. A lot of times, counseling brings some deep-seated issues into the light, and I think we might be better off addressing any that could potentially come up before we are engaged and sailing towards marriage, before we have those concrete expectations and tunnel vision.”
I agreed. Although I was optimistic about our relationship and about the idea of us getting married, I also valued the act of taking whatever help I could get. I thought it was a good idea to have an extra set of wise eyes that might notice something about our relationship that I wasn’t seeing, just in case. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know.
Deanna and I hadn’t lived in Bakersfield that long yet and our church connections there weren’t as deep as the ones we had back in Santa Barbara. While visiting, I went out to lunch with my pastor and asked him if he had ever heard of pre-engagement counseling.
His reaction was essentially the same as mine.
“Haven’t heard of it, but it sounds like a good idea.”
Actually, that was the reaction of almost everybody I told about pre-engagement counseling.
But I then asked Pastor Jim if it might be something he’d be willing to do with us. I figured Deanna and I already visited Santa Barbara frequently enough to get in several sessions before we would move out of California.
He very graciously offered to guide us through.
Over the course of the year, every time we went to Santa Barbara, we met with Pastor Jim, who helped facilitate some important conversations between Deanna and myself. We talked about communication tendencies and how to develop stronger communication. We went over conflict resolution (so, you know, we could handle the conflicts that the rest of the topics might stir up of course) and then we went through some of the usual suspects– expectations for the future surrounding child-raising, relationships with our family of origin, financial management, work-and-home-life balance, and so on. For the most part, Pastor Jim guided us through a series of conversations typical of pre-marital counseling, but they were adapted to fit our story and our then-unengaged status.
I Loved those sessions. Deanna often points out that I enjoy counseling way more than the average person, and she’s right. I like getting to know my internal rationale better and I like learning how that differs from those of somebody I want a deep, intimate relationship with. Throughout the year, I learned a lot about myself, about my approach towards tough conversations, about how my expectations for the future connected to things I valued, and about how to best show Deanna my care and appreciation. Now that we’re engaged, I can even more vividly appreciate things we learned in counseling. Sometimes when you’re engaged, emotions can run high and swing rampantly. It’s a season that requires a mature relationship, and I do think getting counseled before hand helped us to mature in a way that prepared us for this season. I’m also pretty sure that it’s helped prepare us for the next season.
Pursuing pre-engagement counseling was one of the most rewarding decisions I’ve made surrounding my relationship with Deanna. I really do believe that the sessions we had in Pastor Jim’s office better prepared us to be married and that it will continue to pay rewards throughout the life that Deanna and I share together. I’m thankful I decided to ask about it despite barely knowing of its existence, and I’m thankful for Pastor Jim to have taken the time to guide us.
Marriage is an amazing process where you spend a lifetime learning what it means to Love the way that God Loves. Suffice to say, it should be taken seriously and every opportunity to strengthen your marriage should be taken. Sometimes, those opportunities come before you’re married, or even engaged.
I share my story because I’ve benefitted a lot from pre-engagement counseling. If not for Deanna hearing about it from a forgotten source, I wouldn’t have known it exists, and I would’ve missed out on it. It’s something I’d recommend to somebody in a serious relationship that might be heading in that direction, even if it’s just a consideration. I’d even recommend that singles just take note of the idea and stick it in their back pocket. It isn’t a very common practice, of course, so you wouldn’t really see it widely advertised or offered by churches or general counselors too often. But, even then, you can always ask.
Again I’d have to thank Pastor Jim for his generosity with his time and wisdom, and for offering us his help without having even heard of such a thing before. What we got in those sessions was something you can’t put a price on.
I’m still pretty sure marriage won’t be easy, but it’s also not something I’m worried about. We’ve prepared ourselves as much as we can, and for the rest of what we have yet to learn, there is grace and there is an opportunity to grow.